In the event of another war, missile barrages will hit Israel's home front causing far greater destruction than in the Second Lebanon War, five years ago, and much more damage than in Operation “Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip, two and half years ago.
"In past wars, when 122 mm rockets fell, the damage was relatively light", a senior officer in the Home Front Command recently told IsraelDefense. "We didn’t have to tear down damaged houses and rebuild them. But this won't be the picture in a future war".
To be more precise, the officer explains that ninety tons of explosives from thousands of rockets fell on Israel during the thirty-three days of the Second Lebanon War, in the summer of 2006. (the explosives in a "Katyusha" warhead) – Hezbollah's main weapon at the time - weighed only seven kilograms). In Operation “Cast Lead”, the explosive material from Hamas rockets came to 3.7 tons, equivalent to about the amount of explosives in a few air force bombs.
"Today's threat however is much more serious...Not only because of the quantity of missiles and size of the warheads, but also because of their range and accuracy. In the coming war we'll see a greater number of GPS-guided munitions launched at the home front. Hezbollah and Syria now have an accuracy capability of 500 meters from the target, and have stockpiled enormous numbers of missiles tipped with warheads weighing hundreds of kilos, such as the Syrian-made M-600s, Fateh-110s (Iran's version of the Syrian missile), and Scud Ds with a 700 kilometer range and warheads weighing no less than 485 kilograms.
"Taking into account how much pounding Israel can sustain in a war with Syria and Hezbollah on the northern front, wouId venture that 1000-2000 tons is a worst-case estimate", adds the officer. "Now let's put the things in a proper perspective. In the Second World War, a single German city, Dresden, was saturated with 8000 tons of explosives.
"In the first nine weeks of the Blitz, the Germans dropped an average of 206 tons of explosives on London every night, not counting the enormous number of firebombs. Yet despite all this destruction, Britain stood firm. The bottom line is that while the threat to Israel has substantially increased, explosives weighing in the vicinity of 1000-2000 tons will not destroy the country.
"We're a strong nation and will know how to face these challenges. Missiles have been used before in history. We believe that our constantly improving active and passive defense measures will enable us to overcome an attack on the home front and even more importantly – we'll know how to recover quickly".
The defense establishment assumes that in any future war the home front, which includes military bases, national infrastructural facilities, and the bulk of the population in the center of the country, will be subject to an attack of unprecedented proportions. This is why the Home Front Command launched an information campaign in May to prepare the public – especially psychologically – for what it can expect. But beyond a general alert of a missile attack, other steps are being taken too. One of these is the improvement of the warning system.
"Since the Second Lebanon War dramatic progress has been made in this field. First of all we've doubled the number of sirens from 1500 to 3000, but this is only part of the picture. The sirens' level of reliability has risen from 76% to 96%, and this year it will reach 98% efficiency. The system is activated and operational 365 days a year, twentyfour hours a day, not like in the past when it was manned only in times of emergency.
"In addition to the sirens we're working on a wide range of other warning systems in the event of a missile attack on the home front. In June the 'Personal Message' system will become operational. The system picks up all the detection 'signals' (from the radar), processes them, estimates the expected impact area, and sends a personal message to all the cellphones, television converters, beepers, and Internet users in the area. In the first stage, the system will send a warning to the public's cellphones. In other words, it will be capable of identifying mobile phones in the area – and only in that area where the missiles are due to fall - and reaching the cellphones directly and in real time. The warning will be impossible to ignore even if loud music is playing in a car or somebody is inside a closed, air-conditioned office. The cellphone will vibrate, flash, and emit a special sound that warns of an imminent missile attack. All the user has to do is download the applications from the cellphone companies to the smart phone".
There aren’t enough bomb shelters for the entire population.
"True", admits the officer. "While 5% of the public has a security room (residential protected space) or underground shelter in multi-family residential complexes, 25% of the population is still without a protective infrastructure".
What about the budget for protective kits containing gas masks against ABC?
"Here too the budget's a problem. The supply of these kits is sufficient for only 60% of the population. According to the distribution plan, 27% of the population is already furnished with them. Within a year the distribution will be complete, but even then 40% of the population will be left without a protective kit.
"Two Israeli factories produce the kits, and even if they work round the clock it will still take two years to close the gap. This is a very real problem. The time might come when we'll have to issue instructions to the population in the case of a missile attack - instructions to those who have the kits and to those who don’t".